Kids—of shallow pockets and deep control over spending—continue to be controversial marketing magnets. Companies and advertising agencies wishing to tap the kid-cash well are playing out a public battle against groups concerned over kid-centric marketing.
The Alliance for American Advertising is the newest salvo. The Wall Street Journal quotes Wally Snyder, president and chief of the American Advertising Federation, an AAA member, as saying that the new alliance's purpose "is to defend the industry's First Amendment rights to advertise to children and to promote its willingness to police itself."
On Jan. 5, the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest released new guidelines designed to stop the promotion of junk food to children in anticipation of the Jan. 12 release of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005. Kraft Foods also announced its new advertising guidelines on Jan. 12, which include limiting advertising its less-healthy products in media where children are the primary audience.
Nonetheless, Kraft is one of the primary members of the alliance, along with General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft Foods, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Association of National Advertisers and Grocery Manufacturers of America.
According to Kathleen Kelly, professor and co-director of the Center of Business Ethics and Social Issues at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., "Many within the field of advertising believe that self-regulation is the answer to criticisms leveled against the industry. However, there are numerous self-regulatory mechanisms restricting advertising to children already in place, yet the debate, concerns and claims of tasteless advertising continue. Clearly, self-regulation has limited influence since advertisers are making decisions based on codes of ethics that typically provide only general guidance."
Despite the uproar, ProductScan Online is reporting that new introductions of kid-targeted product were down in 2004. This 11.4 percent downturn follows on the heels of three years of growth.
"The reduction in kid-targeted food product launches is probably a result of the threat of proposed legislation, as well as education regarding healthier eating," Kelly said. "My guess is that the greater contributor to this reduction is the industry's concern that their every move is being watched very carefully."